Credit networks lure working class
Wary of banks, Mexicans find cajas accessible
— reported by the Houston Chronicle(1)
Patricia Juarez, a middle-aged woman who runs a clothing stall deep in the labyrinthine wholesale market here, recently augmented her modest inventory by 20 scarves.
Long eager to expand her stock, Juarez secured the extra capital she needed after a friend recommended a two-year loan from a local branch of the Caja Popular Mexicana, a member-owned financial institution.
More and more Mexicans like Juarez previously excluded by or distrustful of formal banking are turning to cajas populares, working-class financial cooperatives, for much-needed loans. The cajas offer savings-and-loan services in a casual environment, and trusted members of the community often operate them.
Many Mexican savers are still wary of commercial banks a decade after the country’s worst economic crisis hit and peso devaluations caused punishing increases in interest rates. With such a large share of the country’s wealth concentrated in the hands of so few, bankers had focused mainly on courting upper-class customers in the cities.
Even with the growth of the cajas, only one in four Mexicans has access to accounts in financial institutions, according to a recent report by the World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.
In rural areas, only 6 percent of the population has accounts.
Juarez got the loan to expand her scarf sales from the Caja Popular Mexicana, the nation’s largest and most successful caja.
It has increased membership by 83 percent since 2001 and has more than 875,000 members, including clothing saleswoman Juarez.
What are known as “popular” financial institutions have existed in Mexico since the 1950s. But recent government and international support has given them new prominence as an increasingly important form of microfinance capable of reaching Mexico’s poorer and more isolated communities. They now account for more than 3 million members, or 3 percent of Mexico’s population.